Jun 03, 2021 - 3:15pm

Poll: The COVID-19 Unemployed

New survey reveals barriers to reentering the workforce

America is suffering from a workforce crisis that is slowing the nation’s economic recovery. There are 8 million unfilled jobs and 9.3 million unemployed Americans, many of whom lost jobs amid the pandemic and have not returned to work.

This has raised important questions: How many unemployed Americans are actively seeking work? How many plan to return to work this summer… this year… ever? And for those unemployed Americans who are seeking work right now, what barriers stand in the way?

We asked them. Here’s what we heard.

This poll of 506 Americans who became unemployed during the pandemic and have not returned to full-time employment was taken May 17-20, 2021. The poll was conducted in partnership with the Sports & Leisure Research Group.

Key Findings

  • Four in 10 Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic have altered their livelihoods: About a fifth now work part-time, one in 10 have become self-employed, and another one in 10 have retired.
  • Half (49%) of Americans who became unemployed during the pandemic say they are not actively or not very actively looking for work; less than a third (32%) report that they are strongly active in their job search.
  • Six in 10 respondents (61%) say they are in no hurry to return to work. Three in 10 (30%) say they do not expect to return to work this year, with nearly half of those (13% of the total) saying they never plan to return to work. 
  • Extrapolated to 9.3 million unemployed Americans, that’s an estimated 2.8 million people who will remain on the sidelines this year, 1.2 million of whom never expect to return to work.
  • One in eight (13%) who became unemployed during the pandemic and remain unemployed have turned down at least one job offer in the past year.
  • One in six not actively seeking work (16%) say the amount of money they are receiving from unemployment benefits and government programs makes it “not worth looking” for work. 
  • Even more–28 percent of survey respondents–agree that “There are a lot of people who are not looking for work because they can do almost or just as well collecting unemployment benefits.”
  • Other common factors contributing to unemployed Americans not looking for work include childcare and other family care needs (24%), a lack of available jobs due in sectors that are still suffering (28%), and COVID-19 concerns (26%).
  • Nearly one in four respondents (23%) say they lack the skills or experience necessary for most of the jobs available right now.

 

Millions On The Sidelines – And Some Aren't Coming Back

 

Half (49%) of Americans who became unemployed during the pandemic say they not actively or not very actively looking for work; less than a third (32%) reporting that they are strongly active in their job search. This is driven by more than half of all women (52%) who lost jobs during the pandemic not actively or very actively looking for work.

Most poll respondents (61%) say say they are not in a hurry to return to work.

Approximately one in eight (13%) who became unemployed during the pandemic and remain unemployed have turned down at least one job offer in the past year. And three in 10 (30%) say they do not expect to return to work this year, with nearly half of those (13% of the total) saying they never plan to return to work.

Many have altered their livelihoods since losing their job during the pandemic, with some moving to part-time work, some setting out on their own, and others retiring altogether. More specifically, about a fifth (22%) now work part-time, one in 10 (9%) became self-employed, and another one in 10 (9%) have retired. Notably, more than one in four over the age of 45 who became unemployed during the pandemic have now retired.


 

Unemployment Benefits Deterring Many From Returning to Work

 

In many states, due to federal supplemental unemployment benefits, Americans are earning more by not working than they would by working. Many leading business voices, policymakers, and economists have argued that financially incentivizing unemployed Americans not to return to work has warped the labor market, but until now, the impact has been difficult to quantify.

One in six unemployed Americans who are not currently looking for work (16%) say the amount of money they are receiving from unemployment benefits and other government programs makes it “not worth” pursuing a job. 

Extrapolated to 9.3 million unemployed Americans, that’s an estimated 2.8 million people who will remain on the sidelines this year, 1.2 million of whom never expect to return to work.

An even higher number of poll respondents–28 percent–agree with the statement: “There are a lot of people who are not looking for work because they can do almost or just as well collecting unemployment benefits.”

 


Childcare, Lack of Skills Pose Additional Barriers to Reentry

Numerous factors are contributing to unemployed Americans’ decisions not to return to work. Among them: childcare demands, skills gaps, and continuing pandemic concerns.

One in four who are not actively seeking work say agree with the statement: “The need to be home and care for children or others in my family, during the pandemic, has made it difficult or impossible to search for full-time employment, right now.”

Nearly one in four (23%) say they do not have the skills or experience necessary for most of the jobs available right now, while 28 percent say a lack of available jobs in hard-hit industries are keeping them from returning to work. Another 26% say COVID-19 concerns are still a factor.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently launched America Works, a nationwide initiative mobilizing industry and government to swiftly address America’s deepening worker shortage crisis. Discover workforce solutions, find additional research and analysis, and explore the full America Works policy agenda at uschamber.com/work.

The poll of 506 Americans who lost jobs during the pandemic and have not returned to full-time employment was taken May 17-20. The poll has an overall survey margin of error +/-4.4 at the 95% confidence level, with stable and projectable bases across age, prior total compensation, ethnicity, incidence of children at home, industry sector and educational attainment.